Anguilla: getting down in the dunes
- Recommended for:
- Beach, Honeymoon, Romance, Expensive
Although it may be best known for attracting Hollywood's A-list to its shores, Anguilla is also home to Moonsplash, an annual celebration of reggae music.
Standing by the bar of the Dune Preserve was the self-proclaimed “Island Boy”, Bankie Banx himself, taking a swig from a bottle of Red Stripe and dragging on his roll-up. He smiled at us and nodded as we approached the counter. “You’ve been here before,” he said to my companion, laughing at memories of times past, before pouring a couple of potent rum punches.
Situated on the sandbanks, overlooking Anguilla’s Rendezvous Bay and looking outwards towards the neighbouring hills of St Maarten, the Dune Preserve lies hidden amidst coconut and mauby trees. From the beach, the bar can only be identified by a painted white and orange sign, while a few chairs and tables from the restaurant sit scattered on the sand. Meanwhile, the entrance from the road is illuminated by flashing, multi-coloured fairy lights under the stewardship of a devil-like figure, smirking at the guests who had found their way into the establishment. An example of green architecture, the Dune Preserve was constructed from driftwood and the remnants of old fishing boats, wrecked by hurricanes and collected from the beach several days later.
Forming part of the Leeward Isles in the northeastern Caribbean, Anguilla is a British colony by name, but American in spirit, with its hotels populated by rich New Yorkers who have flown over for the weekend on their private jets, taking off and landing at Wallblake Airport as if it were the island's only taxi rank. Anguilla’s flat and barren appearance belies its reputation as one of the Caribbean’s most chic and upmarket destinations, as do the hens, goats and chickens that wander aimlessly up and down the dirt tracks of the island’s capital, the Valley.
Although it may lack the lush vegetation of St Barts and the plantation houses of St Kitts and Nevis, much has been written about Anguilla’s plethora of high-end boutique hotels and its reputation for gourmet Caribbean food. Yet it is the easy-going nature of the island that has marked it out on the map. Even for dinner at the island’s top restaurants, the de rigueur dress code for men is beige shorts and a pair of brown sandals. Women, however, are expected to make a little more effort: the standard attire is an understated floral print dress, probably from Chanel. High heels are optional.
Despite all of this, the Dune Preserve’s eclectic appearance is still somewhat incongruous in comparison with its neighbours on Rendezvous beach. To its left are the pristine, white Mycenaean villas of the spa resort CuisinArt, complete with matching sunbeds and parasols. There’s even a tended croquet lawn for guests to enjoy between gin and tonics. On the right sits the walled St Regis complex, Temenos, named after the Greek word for sanctuary.
That night in low season, the Dune Preserve was deserted, but there were clues as to past antics at the establishment. Guitars were leant against the stage, while microphones and speakers lay unplugged. The only act on the bill was the hypnotic backbeat of the sea, with pelicans squawking on backing vocals. By contrast, back in March, the platforms would have been pounding with locals and tourists alike for the Moonsplash festival, an annual celebration of Caribbean folk and reggae music. Led by Bankie himself, on vocals and harmonica, it will take place again next spring.
Moving away from the bar, Bankie wandered to the stage and picked up one of the guitars. He started strumming a melodious folk-like tune on the instrument. “I’m stuck in paradise, I’m free in my head, changed my attitude and my hair’s turned dred,” he sang. Perhaps we would be having our own private reggae festival that night after all.
There are no direct flights from the UK to Anguilla. However, flights to the neighbouring island, St Maarten, are available from Paris and Amsterdam on Air France and KLM. Visitors can then take the ferry boat service to Anguilla from Marigot Bay, which operates every 30 minutes during the day (www.link.ai). Alternatively, British Airways flies to Antigua from London Gatwick, where there is an onward connection to Anguilla on WinAir.
When to go
Although Anguilla is hot all year round, with temperatures averaging 80° Fahrenheit, peak season runs from the beginning of December until the end of June. Outside of these months, there is increased rainfall and a risk of hurricanes, with many shops, hotels and restaurants closing their doors in September and October.
Where to eat and drink
For classic Caribbean cuisine, try Tasty's Restaurant, which is particularly recommended for fresh fish and the chef's pumpkin soup (www.tastysrestaurant.com, +1 264 497 2737). Otherwise, visitors can enjoy conch chowder and grilled seafood on the beach at Roy's Bayside Grill at Sandy Ground (+1 264 498 0154). Fine dining is even available, at the newly renovated Pimms in Cap Juluca (www.capjuluca.com/pimms.php, +1 264 497 6666).
The Dune Preserve is one of the best places on the island for an after-dinner drink or digestif, with live music on offer on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (www.bankiebanx.net/dunepreserve.html, +1 264 497 6219).